Guilt-free screen time for kids – it is possible

With the right approach, digital devices can be used by both kids and parents in a positive way.

It’s all about getting involved with kids’ online activities, rather than just using technology to keep them occupied, says early education expert Jessica Sargeant.

“We need to provide advice to parents on how they can utilise technology, so they don’t just throw the towel in and feel guilty when their children are on their devices,” says Jessica, of Shichida Australia.

Kids and devices: The new norm

Research shows owning their own smartphone or tablet is the new normal for Aussie kids.

The latest Australian Child Health Poll found almost all Aussie teenagers – as well as two-thirds of primary school-aged children and a third of pre-schoolers – now own their own device.

The survey found some pre-schoolers are spending up to four hours a day using their screens.

The poll’s director, paediatrician Dr Anthea Rhodes, says the demands of modern life mean many parents are busy and so use the screen as a digital babysitter.

“We found that 85 per cent of parents of young children say they use screens to occupy their kids so they can get things done,” Dr Rhodes says.

Stay connected with your kids

Jessica it’s essential parents don’t give screens to children under the age of 18 months, when their brains are at the peak stage of development.

But pre-schoolers and primary school aged children can still use devices in a healthy way, especially with parents or caregivers by their side.

“Unless you’re sitting there pointing to things on the screen with your child, those neural connections won’t form,” she says.

“It’s very important for parents or guardians to have lots of connected time with their children and that can still be done with screens.

“Parents need to look at screens such as iPads and tablets as they do any other learning item around the house, and interact with their child while using them.”

Jessica says parents are their kids’ first and best teacher.

“It’s not about saying here is your iPad – go and play with it while I’m cooking dinner – but more using it like a book, for example, asking questions and getting feedback,” she says.

“It’s a gadget yes, but if you’re sitting there with your child while they use it, it can be extremely beneficial for education.”

“During these early years, children want to learn. They want to be stimulated through puzzles, games and discussion.”

Device and technology use at school

Jessica says it is not a bad thing that tablets are widely used in school classrooms, generally from about grade 3 onwards.

“Educational apps are valuable assets for teachers, and parents, and can be used successfully alongside more traditional teaching methods,” she says.

“It’s inevitable that schools will be using technology more and more and you don’t want your child to fall behind, either.”

Top tips for guilt-free screen time

Be creative

Get kids outside taking pictures of things starting with the letter A for example.

Play together

If your child is playing an educational game, play with them.

Engage when watching

Try taking breaks in a movie, or TV show, to discuss what’s happening and encourage comprehension. Ask questions such as: What does that facial expression mean? Or how do you think she feels?

Balance tech time with physical activity

Head outside and practise writing letters in the sand, or making shapes with twigs and sticks.

Written by Liz McGrath.